School leadership in the changing demographic of Christchurch in 2013

by Christine Harris


In this article Thorrington School principal, Christine Harris, writes about changed social landscape of post-earthquake Christchurch and what this has meant for education. She explores the lasting impact that the disaster has had on the students, teachers and leadership of the school, in particular on the imperative to lead change and solve problems. She argues that when faced with this kind of situation leaders require a new repertoire of leadership and managerial practices.

She adapts models from Cohen and Alearn (1980) and from DeWolfe (2000) to show what individuals and communities might face after disasters such as the Canterbury earthquakes.

Harris stresses that the effects of disaster can be felt throughout the education system no matter the circumstance and the decile ratings of schools. The personal concerns of teachers, parents and caregivers all have an impact on students, adding to their anxieties.

Resources, free counselling, maintaining time and funding for teachers’ professional learning, displacement of people, changing school profiles and student behaviours are some of the things that Harris mentions as considerations for school leaders. She comments on the resourcing and extra learning support needed for these things.

This is an honest, thoughtful and cogent account that has relevance for all school leaders who are considering strategic preparations around leading and managing change through the challenges that disasters present.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • Consider bringing together key leadership staff and board members to develop an overarching strategic approach to short-, medium- and long-term disaster management for your community.
  • What learning needs might your students will face and what professional learning might your teachers need to cope with the issues that occur?
  • How well resourced is your school to meet the needs of the students, the teachers and the community during that time? What special facilities/resources will your school need to maintain the services that you offer?
  • Harris talks about finding she had to develop a new repertoire of leadership and management practices over this time. What professional learning and development might your leadership team need to meet challenges like this?


Harris, C. (2013). School Leadership in the changing demographic of Christchurch in 2013. Leading Lights. Edition 2. Newsletter of the New Zealand Educational Administration and Leadership Society (NZEALS). Reproduced with permission.

Useful links

Stories of resilience and innovation in schools: Canterbury earthquakes 2010-2012 – ERO website

Tags: Professional learning and development

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